AUSTIN (KXAN) — After a federal judge in Austin placed Texas’ new abortion law on hold Wednesday night, one abortion provider said it’s jumping on providing abortion care, even though the pause may not shield providers from lawsuits.
U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman issued the injunction against the “Heartbeat Act,” which went into effect Sept. 1. The law bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which could be as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they are pregnant. The state of Texas on Wednesday night quickly filed a notice of appeal to the ruling in the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Pitman’s temporary halt on the law doesn’t give abortion providers legal protection in the long term. The law was written so providers can be sued retroactively, if the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decides to reverse Pitman’s order with a stay.
But Whole Woman’s Health, which has four locations in Texas including in Austin, said it’s already conducted abortions Thursday. Its CEO, Amy Hagstrom Miller, said their clinics already reached out to women they previously turned down in anticipation of a ruling in their favor.
“We were able to provide abortions today to people who had already complied with Texas’ 24 hour-waiting period,” the clinic wrote on Twitter. “We’ve reached out to people on the waiting list we had to turn away in September. In this climate, every single abortion we can provide is a win.”
Hagstrom Miller further explained in a press conference Thursday for patients with cardiac activity they had to deny earlier in September, the clinic went ahead and offered them the option to complete the consenting process that is required to have an abortion in Texas.
“We didn’t really want to mislead people with false hope that we would get an injunction,” she said. “But we also didn’t want to deny them the opportunity of opting in, in case we did get an injunction, so that they would be ready and able to come in for the abortion right away.”
Additionally, Hagstrom Miller said they’ve booked patients for a consultation visit, or the first appointed required by Texas to get an abortion. She added they’ve also booked consenting patients who plan to come into a clinic in the next few days for an abortion.
Aside from the abortions the clinic provided Thursday, Hagstrom Miller said Whole Woman’s Health is “carefully considering how [it] can resume abortion care up to the former limit of 18 weeks.”
Hagstrom Miller acknowledged the uncertainty of the legal repercussions this could have on Whole Woman’s Health clinics, saying they could be sued retroactively if the injunction is repealed.
“But we also have this retroactive situation with SB 8, that many providers are afraid of, many of our physicians and staff are afraid of, that would, if the injunction is knocked down in the future, would allow for the vigilantes to come back and sue us for every abortion we did in the interim,” she said.
The clinic said it is providing abortions in line with Judge Pitman’s ruling “out of compassion for [its] patients.”
“#SB8 left our patients with two choices: carry a pregnancy to term against their will or travel out of state to receive care. This ban hurt Texans and now we can help them,” Whole Woman’s Health continued on social media.
KXAN reported in September, after the law had taken effect, that some Oklahoma abortion providers were already seeing a surge in calls from Texans. Trust Women in Oklahoma told KXAN it typically got three to five calls from Texans per day, but in early September they received 50 to 55 calls from Texans over the course of two days.